Facebook made waves earlier this year when they posted a series of mysterious job listings searching for candidates with backgrounds in neuroimaging, brain-computer-interfaces, and haptics engineers. Speculation immediately began swirling that the social media giant was launching a new project that would allow us to jack Facebook directly into our brains without the need for unwieldy machines. Who needs hands, anyway? Don’t you just hate hands?
Now, Facebook has confirmed that speculation at its annual F8 Developer’s Conference in a speech given by Regina Dugan, former director of both DARPA and Google’s experimental research division. Dugan is now head of Building 8, Facebook’s secretive research laboratory working on innovative technologies such as Wi-Fi-beaming drones and augmented reality glasses. At this year’s F8 conference, Dugan gave a speech confirming that yes, Building 8 is working on brain-to-brain interfaces that will allow users to type with their minds. This latest research project, according to Facebook’s official announcement, will enable Facebook users to communicate directly with one another using only their brains:
We are working on a system that will let people type with their brains. It’s a way to communicate with the speed and flexibility of your voice and the privacy of text. We want to do this with non-invasive, wearable sensors that can be manufactured at scale.
Facebook has called this a “silent speech system” and hopes it will enable users to ‘type’ 100 words per minute with their squishy grey brains. While many people would immediately be turned off by the thought of allowing another individual to ‘read’ their thoughts, Facebook’s statement assures that only the thoughts you want to share will be shared:
This isn’t about decoding your random thoughts. Think of it like this: You take many photos and choose to share only some of them. Similarly, you have many thoughts and choose to share only some of them. This is about decoding those words you’ve already decided to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain.
Suuuuure. What’s not to believe? That Facebook would collect data on your thoughts? Why would they want to do that? Strangely, the announcement continues to state another research goal of Building 8: inventing tech that will allow users to “hear through their skin.” No further details about the creepy-sounding research have been given, but presumably, that means Facebook would hear everything your skin hears. It keeps getting better.
While this development is enough to make some Luddites run for the hills and practice their primitive fire-making techniques, there’s really nothing to be afraid of. When you type on your phone screen, your brain controls your hand. When you read a book, your brain decodes the funny little symbols on the page into language. When we converse, our brains control our mouths and interpret the vibrations of our tympanic membranes. We’ve been communicating brain-to-brain since the dawn of human communication – just with something in the middle. Cave art, speech, music, the written word, YouTube – all of these exist for humans to share our thoughts and ideas with other humans. Sure, the media might change, but they’re essentially all doing the same thing. Now that Facebook might remove the middleman, could this truly lead to communication at its highest level? Maybe once those Facebook engineers figure out how to get more than 100 words per minute. I’ve got places to be.
Of course, questions remain about what Facebook would do with all of the data it gathers directly from users’ minds. Who would know if they’re actually reading your every thought? Likely the CIA and NSA, that’s who.